And, understandably, this has stirred up some strong feelings right here in Watertown.
As you can see from a surge of letters to the editor, as seen on the opposite page, the action by the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, has some residents so furious that they are calling for an end to the Watertown’s participation in the ADL-sponsored “No Place for Hate” program.
Town councilors recently reaffirmed Watertown’s participation in the program, which aims to “provide communities with a solid framework for promoting an inclusive environment while fighting all forms of hate and bigotry,” according to its Web site.
But now, some say Watertown must respond to Foxman’s action by pulling the town out of “No Place for Hate.”
More than 8 percent of Watertown residents trace their heritage back to Armenia, according to the Census. The actual number may be higher. Certainly Watertown became a sanctuary for Armenians fleeing the World War I-era attempt by the Turkish government to wipe them out.
Turkey’s government continues to deny that the mass deaths of Armenians were the result of government policy. To Turkey’s great shame, it is still a crime to “insult Turkishness” by calling it what is clearly was: genocide. More than a million ethnic Armenians died in what was without doubt a program by the Turkish government to eradicate Armenians. Hitler publicly admired Turkey’s methods.
The Armenian Genocide bill, House bill 106, is now in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. There’s a similar bill in the Senate. The new Democratically controlled Congress appears to offer the best chance in years of putting the U.S. government on record as calling Turkey to account for its systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians.
So why in the world would the head of the ADL, an organization with a proud history of fighting anti-Semitism and racism, argue against U.S. government recognition of the Armenian Genocide?
Here’s what Foxman said, according to the L.A. Times:
“I don’t think a bill in Congress will help reconcile this issue. The resolution takes a position. It comes to a judgment. The Turks and Armenians need to revisit their past. The Jewish community shouldn’t be the arbiter of that history. And I don’t think the U.S. Congress should be the arbiter, either.”
It boggles the mind that the head of the ADL could actively work against recognition of a genocide, given the centrality of the Holocaust to the ADL’s work.
But Foxman’s line of thought isn’t different from that of other public figures from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a wide range of members of Congress: As a moderate Muslim state, Turkey is an important U.S. ally. And Turkey may be the closest thing to an ally that Israel has among states with a Muslim majority. Pushing recognition of the Armenian Genocide could result in Turkey taking actions against U.S. and Israeli interests.
This “realpolitik” way of thinking envisions Turkish hardliners retaliating by, for instance, shutting down U.S. military bases in Turkey. The thinking goes: Israel still faces an existential threat from its neighbors, so keeping Turkey friendly is a greater good than righting a historical wrong.
But these considerations of geo-politics should be removed from the discussion about whether Watertown should participate in “No Place for Hate.”
While “No Place for Hate” has attracted a vocal minority of people who make the specious claim that it somehow muzzles free speech, the program itself is a good one. It’s a public statement that Watertown stands against bigotry and hate.
“No Place for Hate” was created by the ADL New England Region, in partnership with the Massachusetts Municipal Association. It has virtually nothing to do with Foxman’s national organization.
“The local ‘No Place for Hate’ is very committed to efforts to reinforce tolerance,” said Will Twombly, co-chairperson of the program’s Watertown committee. “We are not in any way part of efforts to deny the Armenian Genocide.”
Watertown shouldn’t pull out of “No Place to Hate” over Foxman’s hypocritical decision to work against governmental recognition of the Armenian Genocide. To do so would be “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
The goals of “No Place for Hate” track well with the moral imperative to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Put another way, when our friends disappoint us, the solution isn’t to stop being friends. It’s to work to bring our friends around.
Putting pressure on Foxman to reverse his stance is a good thing.
Getting rid of “No Place for Hate” in Watertown isn’t.